Tchaikovsky/Sibelius: Violin Concerto; Violin Concerto

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Tchaikovsky/Sibelius
LABELS: DG
WORKS: Violin Concerto; Violin Concerto
PERFORMER: Gil Shaham (violin); Philharmonia Orchestra/Giuseppe Sinopoli
CATALOGUE NO: 437 540-2 DDD
Nigel Kennedy’s repackaged 1986 recording of the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto is an adventure – free, rhapsodic, emphasising the constant flow of song which is the work’s main asset. Perhaps he’s a little over-keen to emphasise what melancholy there is here, nearly bringing the outer movements to a halt with the bitter-sweet dreams of second subjects, but the Canzonetta is a miracle of introspection.

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All this passes Gil Shaham by. While the young Israeli clearly has a fabulous palette, conjuring a bright, beautiful sheen at the top of the instrument (though unduly spotlit by DG), he rarely uses it discriminatingly enough, and the sense of flexible movement so vital for the Tchaikovsky is missing. The Sibelius concerto is much more involving, dark tones matched by excellent Philharmonia bassoons and lower strings, though again the fiendish finale sounds too easy, too solid.

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Among the young generation of violinists, it’s the phenomenal Midori’s Sibelius (as yet unrecorded) that I’d welcome most on disc, while Joshua Bell in the Tchaikovsky (Decca) out-charms both the versions considered here. If you want the Kennedy, find ‘Just Listen’, an earlier EMI release coupling it with his Sibelius; Paul Tortelier’s Rococo manner in the Variations lacks lightness of touch, even if his way with the two romantic variations (numbers three and six) will make fans swoon. David Nice